The Problem With Writing in “White”

Although the title suggests that this digression will be about how the color white is difficult to write with, the following post will be about how often historical texts, literary works, and events are often catered to White (Caucasian, European, etc.) people. Being in an age where more and more people are recognizing how various cultures being suppressed, it is not difficult to recognize that white culture is not being suppressed but being further highlighted. Recently, the upcoming Mulan remake is excluding many elements of the Chinese element, even the controversial replacement of the Asian male romantic interest with a white man. Despite the example being slightly inappropriate, it is one of the spheres in which white culture is suppressing another culture. This suppression from the white culture is exemplified in U.S. history textbooks as the early Americans decimated the Native Americans but this suppression expanded more than that.

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The novella, Oroonoko, is about the suffering of an African prince in enslavement. This seventeenth-century narrative, written by a female dramatist Aphra Behn, was criticized as a progressive narrative; marking it as one of first early narrative to write an African as the main protagonist and as a hero. However, this novella earned it shared of problems as the Behn writes that the appearance of this African prince differs from his people. Through the mouth of the narrator, Behn romantically states:

His Face was not of that brown rusty Black which most of that Nation are, but of perfect Ebony, or polished Jett. His Eyes were the most awful that cou’d be seen, and very piercing; the White of ’em being like Snow, as were his Teeth. His nose was rising and Roman, instead of African and flat. His Mouth the finest shaped that could be seen; far from those great turn’d Lips, which are so natural to the rest of the Negroes. The whole Proportion and Air of his Face was so nobly and exactly form’d, that bating his Colour, there could be nothing in Nature more beautiful, agreeable and handsome (15).

She gives her African prince European features. This description may have intended to have readers of the seventeenth-century to see Africans in a different but it also unintendedly made the European characteristics as the standard to look human. It also may have intended to emphasize the attractive beauty of the main protagonist but it demonstrates the beauty of the main protagonist as the beauty of the European. The most common criticism of this novella is its’ failure to shed a realistic positive light on Africans, and instead, put them in a European light with European features to make them European. This book does not seem to celebrate the African culture but figuratively suppresses the culture with the boot of white culture by giving an African man fictional features of a European.

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The problem with “whitening” other cultures is that it suppresses, not celebrates, as well fabricated some false items within non-white culture Some argued that white culture helps bring out the best features of other cultures, but it does much of the opposite. For example, Panda Express is characterized as “Fast Casual Chinese Restaurant” but the supposedly Chinese food is not authentic. According to a Buzzfeed video where their Chinese participants try Panda Express food, some of the food is not served in the Chinese culture. “Chinese people don’t have eggrolls!” This is a creation of the American culture yet most people recognizes and believes it from the Chinese cultures. To have a food item to be falsely placed in someone else’s culture results in a misrepresentation of said culture. Another example is the simple overrepresentation of Asians or Africans in Hollywood films, where the Asian actors usually pose as a martial artist or unattractive nerd, or the African actors pose as the first murder victim or a thug. This overrepresentation is a misrepresentation in media, and since media plays an enormous influence in an individual’s beliefs, it will make American believed to stay with Asians for their intelligence or avoid Africans. Moreover, this will result in folks not identifying Asians or Africans as normal folks, neighbors, students, or an American citizen. White culture, that perpetuates every sphere of influence, causes misrepresentation of other cultures and barely allows room for cultures to debunk the representation and/or expand it.  White culture, especially in media, has a great influence on masses as it cements a permanent representation, despite the inaccuracies.

The problem with writing in white makes other cultures less authentic. It places blame on other culture for not acting “white” or as the image in white culture. There are people who will blame Asians or Africans or Mexicans as their norm, the norm set up by white culture, even to claimed they are not authentic. It suppresses any ability for cultures to demonstrate their authenticity if there are too many narrow minds who are unwilling to believe them. Whitening other cultures in literature, entertainment, and cuisine suppresses their ability for others to see what they are truly are and debunk the misrepresentation.

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Behn, Aphra. Oroonoko. Penguin Classic Books. 2003.

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